Saturday, June 16, 2007

I'm Old Greg!

By jeffaclitus

This clip is very funny but also pretty creepy. It's more the former and less the latter the second time you watch it. If nothing else, be sure to watch the last minute or so. I think you're a nice, modern gentleman. Enjoy.

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Peaceful use of space?

By Carol Gee

STS - 117 Atlantis is on a mission. All of the NASA efforts with which we are acquainted, we assume to be peaceful. Most missions in space have always been peaceful, except for our misadventures with the so-called "star wars" looniness. We hope to finish the International Space Station by 2010. Because it is in an incredibly complex and underfunded space program, the current STS-117 mission has not been without problems. That is the hallmark of working with aging equipment, but there was a bit of good news from orbit yesterday, reported in this BBC News headline: "Repairs ease space mission woes." Quoting from the article,

Problems dogging a mission to the International Space Station have been eased following a space walk and a computer reboot.

. . . Russian cosmonauts have now successfully rebooted vital ISS computer systems that had crashed.

. . . Despite the delays, managers are confident they will be able to complete the ISS before the shuttles' 2010 retirement date.

Nasa plans to fly 15 more missions to the station to deliver large components, spare parts and other supplies. In addition, one final servicing call to the Hubble Space Telescope is planned for September 2008.

Transmission of mission information happens in a wide variety of standard ways - via regular news, C-SPAN, the NASA TV channel,, etc. This story is about the most unusual transmission yet detected. It is from a recent International Herald Tribune piece headlined, "Baby monitor in Illinois picks up live video from NASA mission." To quote,

A mother of two in this suburb of Chicago does not have to turn on the news for an update on NASA's space mission. She just flips on her baby monitor.

. . . "It's not coming straight from the shuttle," NASA spokeswoman Brandi Dean said. "People here think this is very interesting and you don't hear of it often — if at all."

. . . Meilinger silenced disbelieving co-workers by bringing in a video of the monitor to show her class on Tuesday, her students' last day of school. At home, 3-month-old Jack and 2-year-old Rachel do not quite understand what their parents are watching. "I've been addicted to it and keep waiting to see what's next," Meilinger said.

Today's post explores whether the uses of space remain peaceful. So far, so good. Like this mom, I am a "space junkie," addicted to all the news I can find about space. I, too, keep waiting to see what's next, so that I can make sense of it all. An old blogger friend, Bucky, who writes a Brown Bag Blog, once dubbed me the "queen of synthesis." South by Southwest is linked in his "sandwich" list. The concluding two news items (one about Russia and one about the U.S.) are the bologna in the Peaceful Space sandwich.

UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Space - Things may not always be what they seem. The next news item brings into question whether the Russian space program is entirely peaceful. It is an ironic story from the BBC News headlined, "Free 'spy', Russia tells Austria." The conclusion about the truth of it is up to you. To quote,

Moscow has demanded the release of a Russian space agency official who was arrested in Salzburg, Austria, this week on suspicion of spying.

The Russian was suspected of receiving sensitive information from an Austrian military officer, who was also arrested, Austrian officials said. Russia said he had diplomatic immunity because he was attending a UN meeting in Vienna at the time of his arrest.

. . . The man was a member of the Russian delegation to the 50th session of the UN's Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, Russia's space agency said.

Missiles are just like rockets - propelled by stuff that burns very hot and shoots very high. The propellant can fire off a population destroying bomb, a space shuttle, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, or the world's Hubble telescope, into space. Somehow the following does not seem to qualify as a peaceful use of space. In this I agree with the Russians. The recent story is in the BBC News, and unhappily headlines, "US confirms missile shield plans." To quote,

The US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has confirmed the US will go ahead with plans to install parts of a missile defence shield in eastern Europe. He said Washington viewed a Russian offer to use a base in Azerbaijan as an additional capability not a substitute. The US says the shield is necessary to protect against any missile attacks from "rogue states". Russia recently threatened to target missiles against Europe if the US went ahead with the shield.

. . . Nato has now ordered plans to be drawn up for a possible short-range missile defence system for Europe's southern flank. Russia has said the American plan is a threat to its own security and a challenge to its influence in the region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia might aim its own missiles at Europe, but then offered the use of a former Soviet base in Azerbaijan for the US system instead of Poland and the Czech Republic.

There should be some universal law that nations cannot pollute space with war and violence, any more than we can pollute it with CO-2, or with debris. To do so is absolutely spiritually unseemly, in the same way as nukes.

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Exactly what would chaos look like?

By Edward Copeland

I don't suppose a man in his 80s can send his 60-year-old son to his room, especially when the son is the president of the United States, but surely the mess Dubya is leaving in the Middle East should require some kind of punishment from his old man. I never cared much for George H.W. Bush either, but compared to his spawn, my running gag used to be that Dubya makes his dad look like Churchill. Then I remembered that Churchill is the one that invented Iraq in the first place, so maybe that's not a good analogy.

The two-state solution in the Israel-Palestinian conflict seems to have been blown into the wind like specs of Middle Eastern sand, thanks in no small part to Dubya's schizophrenic approach to the crisis. He called for a Palestinian state way back in 2002, but then refused to even meet with Arafat. In an analysis Friday by Glenn Kessler in The Washington Post, some think that Dubya's attempt to deal with moderate Palestinians while isolating extremists such as Hamas led to the current collapse of the Palestinian Authority's authority.

"The less we try to intervene and shape Palestinian politics, the better off we will be," said Robert Malley, an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the International Crisis Group. "Almost every decision the United States has made to interfere with Palestinian politics has boomeranged."

Kessler also points out in his piece how the U.S. reaction to Hamas' victory in Palestinian elections only made things worse. (Dubya is for democracy only if the end result goes the way he wants. He's such a spoiled little brat. Do you think he sits in a corner in the White House at night sucking his thumb?)

When Arafat died at the end of 2004, Abbas won the elections to replace him as president of the Palestinian Authority. Despite deep Israeli misgivings, the United States encouraged Abbas to hold Palestinian legislative elections -- and Abbas invited Hamas to participate, believing he could beat them at the polls. But Hamas won, giving Hamas control of the cabinet and of the powerful prime minister's post that had been created at the behest of the United States. Then, Washington organized a financial boycott of the government, in an effort to showcase Abbas as a moderate alternative in his role as president. But the financial squeeze engendered Palestinian ill will toward the West, not Hamas, and Abbas earlier this year agreed to a unity government with his opponents. The United States had just begun delivering nonlethal aid and training to security forces loyal to Abbas when Hamas decided to strike and seize Gaza.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, the civil war they won't admit is happening is heating up again as more retaliatory strikes against Sunni mosques follow this week's new attack on the revered Shiite Golden Dome mosque.

An explosion leveled a Sunni mosque Saturday in Basra, residents said, in the second retaliatory attack in as many days for the toppling of minarets at a prized Shiite shrine in Samarra. Iraqi police did not immediately respond to the bombing of the al-Ashrah al-Mubashra mosque, witnesses said, raising fears that the city's Shiite-dominated security forces were unwilling to stop sectarian attacks on Sunni landmarks.

While it was announced this week that the troop surge is complete, not that it has accomplished anything beyond increasing the number of dead members of the U.S. military, The Washington Post today reports on how the U.S. has been running a parallel war using private mercenaries, since our real military has been stretched and shattered by Dubyaland's incompetence and malfeasance.

Private security companies, funded by billions of dollars in U.S. military and State Department contracts, are fighting insurgents on a widening scale in Iraq, enduring daily attacks, returning fire and taking hundreds of casualties that have been underreported and sometimes concealed, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials and company representatives. While the military has built up troops in an ongoing campaign to secure Baghdad, the security companies, out of public view, have been engaged in a parallel surge, boosting manpower, adding expensive armor and stepping up evasive action as attacks increase, the officials and company representatives said. One in seven supply convoys protected by private forces has come under attack this year, according to previously unreleased statistics; one security company reported nearly 300 "hostile actions" in the first four months.

The article also talks to Victoria Wayne, who served as director of logistics for Reconstruction Logistics Directorate of the Corps of Engineers until 2006, and is sickened by the deletion of the private death tolls from official lists of fallen U.S. fighters by the Pentagon.

It was like there was a major war being fought out there, but we were the only ones who knew about it.

Oh, we've known about it and for me at least, it makes me ill.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Hippo blogging

By Michael J.W. Stickings

A wonderful photo from the BBC. I had no idea what a baby Hippo looked like. Here's one, just one month old, at the Berlin zoo (also home to Knut the polar bear). His name is Paul.


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Lieberman strikes (out) again

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I can't bring myself to comment, much, on Joe Lieberman's latest bout of verbal diarrhea, this time at the WSJ. Quite simply, it's atrocious -- just as delusional as (or, given recent events, even more delusional than) anything he's written or said before about the situation in Iraq.

You may want to read it for yourself. Or you may not -- this would be my recommended option. If you know anything about Joe "bombs away" Lieberman, you'll know in advance what he has to say here. Put on your rose-coloured glasses and imagine how all is going well in Iraq, no matter what the naysayers are saying.

Lieberman claims especial insight here, and he sticks it to his apparently know-nothing colleagues on the Hill -- the Democrats, that is, for he is (and has been for some time) a warmongering and partisan Republican. He "recently returned from Iraq," where he had "discussions with the talented Americans responsible for leading this fight". And, wouldn't you know it, they are "more balanced, more hopeful and, above all, more strategic in their focus". So he reports, not that his reporting deserves our trust, let alone his insight.

What is amazing about this -- well, not so amazing; it's Joe Lieberman, after all -- is that he sinks to new lows of cluelessness. Is Anbar province doing well? No. It is neither as friendly nor as secure as he claims it is. One wonders what reality he witnessed on his travels. A fake reality, a manipulated reality meant to spin him clueless. Is the surge going well? No. It's been a miserable failure -- as I document here. Lieberman blames misleading headlines for misleading the war's critics, that is, for making the war seem worse than it is, but the headlines mean something when they point to daily bloodshed and chaos.

Other than that, Lieberman heads off into the now-common delusions of the Bushies and the neocons and the other supporters of this disaster of a war. The war in Iraq is a war against al Qaeda -- as if the U.S. occupation isn't making the situation worse by strengthening al Qaeda, as if al Qaeda isn't happy to have the U.S. bogged down in Iraq. Iran is behind America's opponents in Iraq -- the case made for going to war with Iran, with sketchy evidence (at best). And so on and so on. I could go on, but why bother? This piece of warmongering claptrap could have come straight from Cheney's office.

And so, Lieberman asserts, the war must continue. And it must continue because pulling out would be worse than staying in. But would it? How does he know that? How do any of the warmongers know that? The evidence is against them, the history of the entire war is against them, and, increasingly, the facts on the ground are against them. Lieberman and his ilk may reside in a fantasyland well removed from reality, but they are ultimately responsible for what the war has become. What does blood look like through rose-coloured glasses?

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Lil' Bush

By Capt. Fogg

Comedy Central's Lil' Bush isn't funny, or at least that's the news from the bunker states like Utah. Utah, of course isn't known as the mother of a thousand comics, nor is any place known for religiosity and Republican politics also known for thriving comedy clubs. The mocking of heretics, homosexuals, Democratic candidates and minorities seems to fill the niche.

But I didn't come to bury Donick Cary's new cartoon series but to praise it. It may in fact be "mean-spirited, ugly, amateurish, vulgar and unwatchable," but when it takes aim at Bush, there's something refreshing in seeing the characters we suspect of being the inner children of the little club that's ruined the world biting the heads off of birds (Lil' Cheney) or trying to get Lil' Bush to smooch (Lil' Condy).

Wednesday's episode, wherein the Lil' Republican rascals run off to Baghdad to find a present for Daddy Bush in the form of some "good news" reveals that there is no good news for anyone but Halliburton and after a bit of slaughter they can only find a maimed little boy they nickname "lamey" to bring back to Washington in a box. Dad Bush doesn't know what to make of the present and is relieved to toss him, crutches and all in the garbage after moronic Lil' Jeb accidentally breaks his neck.

Yes, as many reviews point out, it takes "liberties with the truth", but that's what satire is about, and perhaps treating the House of Bush in this trenchant fashion makes it more revealing of inner ugliness than the House of Usher with its hidden, gothic horrors. It's the use of sarcastic humor, albeit cruel, mean and ugly, that allows us to deal with the dimwitted Decider, the greedy, inhuman prince of darkness Cheney and their familiars. Perhaps as with any Medusa, you can't really look at such a hideous visage directly.

The picaresque first episode uses a competition to get the first kiss of youth as the grail the Weeble-like characters seek while destroying lives to get it. I think actually, that it's far more kind to show them thus: as childish, self involved innocents with undeveloped consciences, than to show them as they really are: childish, self involved sociopaths with undeveloped consciences, up to their knees in blood in their quest for power, glory and riches.

(Cross-posted at Human Voices.)

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The Middle East -- then and now

By Carol Gee

Back at the turn of the century, prospects looked brighter for a peaceful settlement of the decades long dispute between Israel and Palestine over a few tiny parcels of land in the Middle East. Towards the end of the Clinton administration's tenure, Israeli and Palestinian leaders were in peace negotiations at Camp David, under the auspices of the U.S. Those talks eventually failed, perhaps because Yasser Arafat had never learned how to be truly peaceable, or because time ran out, or whatever. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wrote her thoughts about it in her 2003 book, Madam Secretary. To quote:

If Arafat had chosen differently, Palestine would now be a member of the United Nations, its capital in East Jerusalem. It's people would be able to travel freely between the West Bank and Gaza. It's airport and seaport would be operating. Palestinian refugees would be receiving compensation and help in resettling. Instead the Palestinians have their legalisms, their misery, and their terror.

Now we are at "if only. . . " -- Arafat died, (Abu Mazen) Mahmoud Abbas, a good man, became his successor. The Bush administration became the successor to the Clinton administration, and things have been on a steep downhill slide ever since. Neocons convinced far too many in positions of authority that pure democracy was the answer. Eventually Palestinian voters said OK to Hamas and Ismael Hanaya, who seemed to offer something better than the PLO/Fatah's tired and weak governance. After a time the two factions formed a unity government.

The West: "We'll just starve Hamas; they are terrorists" -- The United States refused to recognize the election results and led in cutting off funds for Palestine. And Israel withheld the money owed to the Palestinian government. Eventually the European Union followed suit. Deutsche Welle carried the story earlier this year (4/11/07) on EU aid to Palestine, headlined "EU Says No to Aiding Palestinian Unity Government" To quote:

New Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad has failed to convince the European Union to agree to resume aid to the Palestinian Authority despite what he called a "very acute financial crisis".

Speaking in Brussels on Wednesday, Fayyad, a respected independent and a former senior World Bank official, warned that the Palestinian coffers only had about a quarter of the funds required for 2007, a shortfall of around a billion euros ($1.3 billion)...

The EU was the biggest aid donor to the Palestinian government until the Hamas militants came to power in March 2006. The Quartet of Middle East mediators -- the European Union, United States, United Nations and Russia -- then suspended direct aid to the Palestinian authority.

Palestinian pie gets cut in even smaller pieces -- The results could have been predicted. As the situation for the people of the West Bank and Gaza became more and more desperate, the basic resources for day to day to life got more scarce. The two factions were competing for power over very limited necessities. They had never been able to functionally unite to govern. And now they, like Iraqis, are in what seems like a civil war. This is that story from yesterday: Yahoo! News/Reuters (6/14/07) with the headline, "Hamas overruns Fatah security command." To quote:

Hamas fighters overran one of the rival Fatah movement's most important security installations in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, and witnesses said the victors dragged vanquished gunmen from the building and killed them in the street...

The capture of the Preventive Security headquarters was a major step forward in Hamas' attempts to complete its takeover of all of Gaza. Hamas later called on Fatah fighters to surrender the National Security compound within the hour...

Israel was considering backing Fatah forces in the West Bank, but did not elaborate. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he discussed the possible deployment of a multinational force in Gaza with the Security Council on Wednesday.

And here we are today: So much for democracy overrunning the Middle East. The United States' misguided foreign policy under the current administration has been an unmitigated disaster. It had been marked by ineptitude, foot-dragging, neglect and interference, ignorance of history and lack of sophistication. Now most of the neocons have fled the scene. This morning's sorry headline in The New York Times reads, "Palestinian split deepens; government in chaos." To quote:

The Palestinian territories seemed headed Thursday to a turbulent political divide. Masked Hamas gunmen took control of the Gaza Strip and the Fatah president dissolved the 3-month-old unity government, declaring a state of emergency and plans for elections.

An aide to President Mahmoud Abbas announced the decrees, including the firing of Prime Minister Ismail Haniya of Hamas, at a West Bank news conference after Hamas militias overran Fatah strongholds in Gaza, dragging men into the street and shooting them.

It will take years for the next U.S. president even to begin to clean up the debris. Voters might think about checking all the candidates' foreign policy credentials before casting their votes.

Update: The latest news on the situation from Reuters will not stay current very long, but here it is anyway.

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Chris Matthews's man-crush on Fred Thompson

By Michael J.W. Stickings

How else to describe it? It's a homoerotic man-crush with blatant Freudian undertones. Glenn Greenwald explains.

(It's why Giuliani is still so popular with Republicans despite his social liberalism, and why there's so much buzz surrounding Thompson. Republicans need a father figure -- and a man whose authoritarian virility they can admire from their knees.)

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Friday morning poem

By Jeffaclitus

I recently came across this satirical poem by the English poet John Betjeman, "In Westminster Abbey," and thought I would post it here. Its speaker is describing her feelings in early 1940 or thereabouts. Not that it has any relevance to certain voices in our political arena today or anything.

In Westminster Abbey

Let me take this other glove off
As the vox humana swells,
And the beauteous fields of Eden
Bask beneath the Abbey bells.
Here, where England's statesmen lie,
Listen to a lady's cry.

Gracious Lord, oh bomb the Germans.
Spare their women for Thy Sake,
And if that is not too easy
We will pardon Thy Mistake.
But, gracious Lord, whate'er shall be,
Don't let anyone bomb me.

Keep our Empire undismembered
Guide our Forces by Thy Hand,
Gallant blacks from far Jamaica,
Honduras and Togoland;
Protect them Lord in all their fights,
And, even more, protect the whites.

Think of what our Nation stands for,
Books from Boots and country lanes,
Free speech, free passes, class distinction,
Democracy and proper drains.
Lord, put beneath Thy special care
One-eighty-nine Cadogan Square.

Although dear Lord I am a sinner,
I have done no major crime;
Now I'll come to Evening Service
Whensoever I have the time.
So, Lord, reserve for me a crown.
And do not let my shares go down.

I will labour for Thy Kingdom,
Help our lads to win the war,
Send white feathers to the cowards
Join the Women's Army Corps,
Then wash the Steps around Thy Throne
In the Eternal Safety Zone.

Now I feel a little better,
What a treat to hear Thy word,
Where the bones of leading statesmen,
Have so often been interr'd.
And now, dear Lord, I cannot wait
Because I have a luncheon date.

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Here, have a rocket launcher

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Here's some Jon Stewart for your viewing pleasure, a hilarious segment about some rather un-hilarious developments in Iraq. Creature mentioned one of those developments -- yet another new plan, if you will -- in a recent post: arming Sunni insurgents so that they can fight al Qaeda. Crazy, huh? Yup.

And yet, when you actually think about it, it makes a lot of sense. I mean, the U.S. basically arms the entire world, and, of course, the U.S. armed Saddam back in the '80s, back when he was "our man" in the Middle East. Hey, why not just dump guns and shit all over Iraq and let the Iraqis slaughter each other even more aggressively and efficiently than they are now? Wait, that might be the next new plan! (Along with arming al Qaeda itself. Oh, right, the U.S. did that, too, more or less, back when the mujahideen were the good guys, "our men" in Afghanistan.)

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Libby walks alone

By Libby Spencer

Refusing to back down in the face of death threats, presumably from Bush's oh so "moral" conservative base, Judge Walton has issued his verdict and he's keeping to the hard line of accountability. Scooter Libby must go to directly to jail and since it looks like his feckless hero is not going to give him a get out of jail free card, he's expected to begin serving his sentence, pending appeal, within six to eight weeks.

There's a certain poetic justice to Libby being sent up the river by an appointee of Daddy Bush, bringing the betrayal of his loyalty full circle. The only thing wrong with this picture is Libby will be taking the perp walk by himself. If justice had been truly served, he would be joined on that lonely journey by Cheney, but Scooter plays the useful fool to the end.

I kind of feel sorry for his kids. You don't get to choose your parents, but I have no sympathy for Scooter. He should be rotting in jail. If he truly cared about our country he would have rolled and delivered us from the evil clutches of at least one of our reckless overlords.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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Gore/Obama '08

By Creature

A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll has Hillary Clinton solidifying her lead and her status as the inevitable Democratic nominee. The numbers give Hillary a 14-point lead over Obama and another 24 over Edwards. While Iowa and New Hampshire could change the equation, I can't see Hillary losing much ground before that point. Which leads me to this bit of wishful thinking: Al Gore will jump in the race.

Faced with Hillary's inevitableness the left will need a serious anti-war candidate as an alternative to her. Obama was supposed to play that role, but in the poll numbers game, he's got no game, and that's the game were playing. And, yes, I'm discounting Obama's fund raising numbers. They're good, but not game changing. Which brings me back to Gore.

Al Gore is the only one who can seriously threaten Hillary. If, and when, he steps in Gore gets all of Edwards' netroots support and I suspect he gets a good chunk of Obama's as well. He's at 30 percent without even trying. And with the stakes so high I would not be surprised if Gore not only got Obama's supporters, but that he lands Obama himself. Obama will calculate that Gore is his ticket to the White House and together they will leave Hillary, and her bad judgment, behind.


My Reaction co-bloggers have also weighed in on the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. Carol's take can be found here. Edward's take here.

Michael's opinion on the whole Gore '08 thing can be found here. And his Gore/Obama reaction in general [via a super-secret email to Creature central]: "Experience at the top, inspiration at the side. Fantastic." Sounds fantastic to me too, Boss.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Outside the law -- way outside!

By Carol Gee

When leaders operate outside the law, a very corrosive effect can be expected. The international community, and now the American public, is no longer willing to let the U.S government to do anything they want in the name of national security. Increasingly negative feelings about foreign policy, U.S. public safety, and lack of confidence in government are reflected in the most recent public opinion poll by NBC and the Wall Street Journal. Most of us believe the country is going in the wrong direction. MSNBC reports that "President’s, Congress’ ratings drop to lowest levels ever":

[J]ust one in five believe the country is on the right track, which is the lowest number on this question in nearly 15 years.

You mean we cannot even trust the FBI? We have been taught that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is in business to protect United States citizens, national security and investigate law breaking. Widespread abuse of civil liberties by the FBI and other governmental entities is, instead, what has happened in recent years. Yahoo! News/Reuters today (6/14/07) carried this story, headlined '"FBI audit finds widespread abuse in data collection," from which I quote:

An internal FBI audit has found the agency violated rules more than 1,000 times while collecting data on domestic phone calls, e-mails and financial transactions in recent years, The Washington Post reported on Thursday...

The vast majority of newly discovered violations were instances in which telephone companies and Internet providers gave agents phone and e-mail records the agents did not request and were not authorized to collect, the Post said...

FBI officials said the audit found no evidence that any agent knowingly or willingly violated the laws or that supervisors encouraged such violations, the Post reported. Rather it showed that many agents did not understand or follow the required legal procedures and paperwork requirements when collecting personal information, the Post reported.

At least there are courts we can trust -- A story from last week makes it clear that the Bush administration has operated outside the law regarding so-called "enemy combatants." And it seems that the courts are our only recourse. Headlined "Court Says Military Cannot Hold 'Enemy Combatant'," and written by Adam Liptak of The New York Times, I quote from the June 11, 2007 article:

In a stinging rejection of one of the Bush administration’s central assertions about the scope of executive authority to combat terrorism, a federal appeals court ordered the Pentagon to release a man being held as an enemy combatant.

The Italians do not trust the CIA's lawfulness -- The first criminal trial over the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" of terror suspects opened a week ago in Italy. Naturally, nothing is likely to come of it. Congress continues to do a very poor job of oversight of the so-called "black budget" programs. Ironically, our current president (OCP), visited Italy the same day. He remains oblivious and irrellevant. The BBC News carried this headline: "First CIA rendition trial opens" (6/8/07). To quote:

Twenty-six Americans and six Italians are accused of kidnapping a Muslim cleric from Italy and sending him to Egypt, where he was allegedly tortured.

The American CIA agents and military personnel will be tried in absentia. Italy has not announced if it will seek their extradition to the Milan trial.

US President George W Bush arrived in Italy hours after the trial began.

Does the law cover CIA operations in Europe? On the same day as the start of the Italian trial-in-absentia, the Council of Europe reported on a related off the reservation CIA project. Headlined "Report says CIA operated secret prisons in Romania and Poland," it is from the International Herald Tribune (6/8/07). To quote:

In a report issued Friday, the lead investigator for the Council of Europe gave a bleak description of secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe with information he said was gleaned from anonymous intelligence agents, many of whom wanted to unburden themselves...

The report, which says the prisons were operated exclusively by Americans in Poland and Romania from 2003 to 2006, relies heavily on testimony from CIA agents who justified grim treatment to investigators: "Here's my question? Was the guy a terrorist? 'Cause if he's a terrorist, then I figure he got what was coming to him"...

A trial that charges American and Italian secret agents with kidnapping a radical imam opened Friday in Milan, in the first prosecution of the contentious U.S. policy of abducting terror suspects for interrogation elsewhere, Ian Fisher of The New York Times reported from Rome.

It would take several more pages to list the many other ways OCP and his current administration are operating outside of the law in the foreign policy/national security arena. I do not have a corner on that knowledge. Please feel free to add comments with your own most egregious examples.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Immigration, public opinion, and extremism

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The immigration bill, of course, is dead. But let me make a few points:

1) Personally, I thought it was a very sensible bill. However, it was a bill that was bound to displease some very powerful people in Washington, hence the abuse it took from both sides of the aisle in the Senate. The perfect is the enemy of the good, after all, and here, as so often, the good lost out because there were, as there so often are, so many claims on the perfect.

2) But did it take equal abuse from both sides? No. Kevin Drum made this valuable point last week: "This was a bipartisan bill sponsored by Ted Kennedy and John McCain and supported by George Bush. Democrats voted 37-11 in favor of moving forward to a final vote. Republicans voted 38-7 against it. In the end, the Democratic leadership delivered nearly 80% of its votes. Bush couldn't even get 20% of his party to go along." It was the extremism of the Republican Party, far more than any extremism of the Democratic Party, that killed the bill.

3) A new Rasmussen poll indicates that a narrow majority of Americans -- 51%, to be precise -- want Congress to "take smaller steps towards reform". Only 20% support the bill that was killed in the Senate. A larger majority of Americans -- 69%, to be precise -- "favor an approach that focuses exclusively on 'exclusively on securing the border and reducing illegal immigration.'" For my views on whether public opinion should matter here, or to what extent it should be taken into account, see here. Short answer: Immigration reform ought to be worked out by the people's representatives, not the people themselves, who, no matter that the polls would suggest, do not necessarily know what they want. (This is not to dismiss the vaunted "American people," just to point out that immigration reform is a complicated beast.)

4) Whatever the results of that poll, a new Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll indicates that "at least a plurality of Americans backs the two most contentious provisions of the bill, a proposal to offer 12 million undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship and the creation of a guest-worker program". Here's how the Times puts it: "A strong majority of Americans -- including nearly two-thirds of Republicans -- favor allowing illegal immigrants to become citizens if they pay fines, learn English and meet other requirements. Indeed: "Only 23% of adults surveyed opposed allowing undocumented immigrants to gain legal status." This is all quite promising. The xenophobes of the right, and this issue has mobilized them seemingly like no other, are screaming bloody murder about "amnesty," but evidently they are in the minority -- and it isn't even close.

I harbour no illusions that anything will get done on comprehensive immigration reform anytime soon. There are simply too many interests lined up against it. Still, there is hope. The Democrats were overwhelmingly in favour of this effort, and, with larger majorities after next year's elections, they could try again (and have a much better shot of getting something done). And although Americans are concerned about border security and the reduction of illegal immigration, and rightly so, they are not opposed to offering "illegal" immigrants the opportunity to acquire American citizenship as long as certain conditions are met.

A very sensible bill went down to defeat, but the foundations of comprehensive reform, in terms of public opinion and political will, are solid.

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Mars under water

By Michael J.W. Stickings

A fascinating discovery.

There was an ocean, but was there life?


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Headline of the Day

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Bad news for Iranian smut peddlers:

Here's the story:

With a 148-5 vote in favor and four abstentions, lawmakers present at the Wednesday session of the 290-seat parliament approved that "producers of pornographic works and main elements in their production are considered corrupter of the world and could be sentenced to punishment as corrupter of the world."

The term, "corrupter of the world" is taken from the Quran, the Muslims' holy book, and ranks among the highest on the scale of an individual's criminal offenses. Under Iran's Islamic Penal Code, it carries a death penalty.

The "main elements" referred to in the draft include producers, directors, cameramen and actors involved in making a pornographic video.

In related news, the White House announced yesterday that it will likely not be sending Ron Jeremy to Tehran as an "emissary of peace and reconcilation," as had been reported earlier in the week by Adult Video News.


Seriously, though. This isn't good, and not just because I oppose the death penalty. It is a sign that liberalism has a long way to go in Iran -- and not because liberalism is pornography, as some on the right might suggest, but because liberalism -- or the political philosophy of individual liberty, America's founding political philosophy -- demands toleration even of that which is, however defined, "dirty" (as long as there is consent, of course). You don't have to like pornography, you just have to tolerate it. You know: I don't like what you say, but I defend your right to say it.

In Iran, however, if they don't like what you say, or if what you do, or represent, is "pornographic" (which remains open to interpretation, one imagines -- it could be defined rather broadly, given the oppressive sexual climate in that country -- yes, this is about sex more than speech, strictly speaking), they'll kill you. Speech, you see, isn't free; it's deadly. Especially when it's sexual.

And I'm sure that pleases the Tyrant Ahmadinejad to no end.

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Mother and baby

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I just couldn't resist (not that I really wanted to). Here's a wonderful photo of Russian sea otter Meel and her new baby at Tokyo's Sunshine International Aquarium. (From the G&M; there's also a photo at the BBC.)


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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Vatican takes aim at Amnesty International on abortion

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I realize that the Roman Catholic Church is "pro-life," which is to say, vehemently anti-abortion, no matter what, but I'm not so sure it's such a great idea -- given a) its own long history on the wrong side of human rights, and b) its more recent concern with human rights, including opposition to the death penalty -- to go after Amnesty International for promoting abortion choice.

And that is precisely what the Church is doing. As the BBC is reporting, "[t]he Vatican has urged all Catholics to stop donating money to Amnesty International". This is nothing if not counter-productive.

In its defence, Amnesty is claiming that it promotes choice, not universal abortion rights, which is fair, if unclear, but of course the Church is absolutist in its stance on abortion -- and this includes opposing abortion even in extreme cases (rape, incest). The Church points to what it calls Amnesty's "pro-abortion about-turn," but Amnesty's deputy secretary general, Kate Gilmore was right to argue that the "Church, through a misrepresented account of [Amnesty's] position on selective aspects of abortion, is placing in peril work on human rights".

Evidently, though, anti-abortion absolutism, even when combined with misrepresentation, as here, is more important to the Church -- or at least to the Vatican, to be more precise -- than Amnesty's important work on human rights. Would it not have been better for the Church to criticize Amnesty's position without going so far as to call on all Catholics to stop donating money to it? Given that Amnesty and the Church now have so much in common, and can do so much together with respect to human rights, why endanger the noble work that Amnesty is doing?

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The bleeding continues

By Edward Copeland

The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll (pdf) has something for everyone to fear with dismal numbers for Dubya, Congress and the worst right track/wrong track numbers yet. The poll also shows more Republicans leaving the sinking Bush Administration ship.

WASHINGTON -- As President Bush attempts to revive the controversial immigration reform bill he supports, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that Republicans are abandoning the president, which has dropped his job-approval rating below 30 percent -- his lowest mark ever in the survey.

But he isn’t the only one whose support is on the decline in the poll. Congress’ approval rating has plummeted eight points, bringing it below even Bush’s. And just one in five believe the country is on the right track, which is the lowest number on this question in nearly 15 years.


In the poll, Bush’s approval rating is at just 29 percent. It’s a drop of six points since April, and it represents his lowest mark ever on this question in the NBC/Journal poll.

Democratic pollster Jay Campbell, who works with Hart, attributes this decline to Republicans. Back in April, 75 percent of Republicans approved of Bush’s job performance, compared with 21 percent who disapproved. Now, only 62 percent of Republican approve, versus 32 percent who disapprove.

This definitely shows another feeling of "a pox on all their houses" building out there. With both parties' nominations possibly be locked up by early March 2008, it seems even more likely that fatigue with the same two people in an eight-to-nine month presidential campaign to look to a third party choice and someone with deep pockets such as Mike Bloomberg could be poised to fill that void. In the unlikely event that the GOP nominates Rudy Giuliani and the Democrats make the fatal error of nominating Hillary Nothing-But-Ambition Clinton and then Bloomberg enters, we could see a three-way, all-NY race.

Good news for Hillary from this poll though: She has widened her national lead over Obama and Edwards, both whom have slipped. On the Republican side, Giuliani still leads but the still unofficial candidacy of Fred Thompson has placed him in second place, ahead of both Romney and McCain.

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Not only do they think people choose to be gay...

By Edward Copeland

This story has been circulating for a couple of days, but I couldn't resist commenting on it. In case you missed it, the Pentagon has officially rejected a plan to build a "hormone bomb" designed to turn enemy combatants gay. As recounted by Emil Steiner at The Washington Post:

The proposal came from the Air Force's Wright Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio, which requested $7.5 million to develop a so-called "gay-bomb." Using the Freedom of Information Act, Edward Hammond, director of the U.S. office of the Sunshine Project, obtained a copy which was "part of a military effort to develop non-lethal weapons." If completed, the bomb would release a chemical aphrodisiac "and by virtue of either breathing or having their skin exposed to this chemical... soldiers would become gay." This would cause their units to break down as the troops "became irresistibly attractive to one another." In addition to a "gay bomb" the proposal also mentions using chemicals which could make bees angry so that enemy forces would be attacked not only by our troops but also swarms of stinging insects.

Before leaping to the conclusion that this scheme was something only the loons in the Bush administration could come up with, the original plan dates back to 1994. The whole notion is crazy on so many levels: First, assuming that someone's sexual orientation can be changed by infecting them with the right hormones; and, second, that if fighters "turned gay," they'd suddenly lose interest in warfare because they'd be so preoccupied with getting some action.

Using that logic, why didn't they drop Playboy centerfolds behind enemy lines? It'd be cheaper than trying to develop new technology and the presumably "straight" soldiers would still be distracted by their lusty desires. Even assuming that this was a plausible or worthwhile idea, how would this play with the right-wing Republican base? (Picture James Dobson saying, "We want to stop the enemy, but we don't want more homosexuals running around. We'd rather kill them as heterosexuals than risk them coming over here and converting our children.")

When I hear things like this and see Republican candidates still debating evolution, I want to check my watch, but it unfortunately only gives me the time, not the century. Though it makes sense that the Pentagon would ultimately reject this plan during the Bush administration: After all, they aren't that big on science in the first place.

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Late to the party

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It's all fine and dandy that the American Freedom Agenda, "a growing group of disaffected conservatives who are demanding that the Republican Party return to its traditional mistrust of concentrated government power" -- co-founded by ideologists of the hardcore right Richard Viguerie, Bruce Fein, and David Keene, along with born-again libertarian Bob Barr -- is pushing "all candidates in both parties" to pledge not to wiretap illegally, make signing statements, prosecute journalists, and deny habeas corpus rights to the accused, but, well, count me among the cynical.

These conservatives are doing what so many other conservatives are doing, which is denying that Bush is or ever was a true conservative -- for what else is this but a pledge not to do what Bush has done? -- but where were they (Barr aside) when this, and so much else besides, was going on before? 9/11 didn't happen yesterday, after all. The Patriot Act has been around for a long time. And Bush has been trampling all over the Constitution pretty much throughout his entire presidency. Was it alright back then but not now? If so, why? If not, why come out only now? Could it have anything to do with a) the fact that Bush is wildly unpopular, prompting disillusioned conservatives to seek to purify their movement, and/or b) the strong possibility that a Democrat will win the White House next year?

Otherwise, so what? Should we applaud their courage, their principled commitment to civil liberties -- however disingenuous, however belated, however self-serving? Hardly. Liberals, Democrats, and other critics of Bush and his authoritarianism, myself included, have been writing against these various abuses for many, many years now. I could go back and find post after outraged post -- and I'm no Glenn Greenwald.

I have two words to describe what the AFA is up to: Convenient conservatism.

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The WMDs! The WMDs!

By Michael J.W. Stickings

They've been found!

But don't get too excited. They're not what or where you think they are:

1) They're American, not Iraqi.

2) They're at the bottom of the ocean all around the U.S.



I found this interesting post at a site called Deep Sea News -- which I didn't know existed until just now. (Isn't the Internet great?) It includes a map of "WMDs close to home," and it's scary stuff.

Back in November 2005, the old DSN site explained the situation (or part of it): "Recently unclassified data shows 64 million pounds of nerve gas and mustard gas; 400,000 chemical bombs, landmines and rockets, and 500 tons of radioactive waste dumped in the sea before Congress banned the practice in 1972." Also: "New Zealand recently made a diplomatic query into the matter, because new records show the US dumped allied and enemy stockpiles off whatever country the weapons were in when World War II ended. Those countries include Australia, India, Japan, Italy, France and Denmark. It is unclear whether New Zealand is affected, but deep currents can disperse deadly materials over broad scales."

There has been extensive coverage of this story -- which I suspect is unknown to many -- at the Daily Press (Newport News, Virginia). The "Special Report" is called "The Deadliness Below," and I encourage you to have a look (and to read through it). If I may make a gross understatement, it's quite something.

Who knew the U.S. was literally surrounded by WMDs?

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Here comes Mitt: An assessment of the GOP presidential race

By Michael J.W. Stickings

"Romney surges ahead in New Hampshire," according to CNN.

I once thought that Sam Brownback, social conservative extraordinaire, was the dark-horse candidate in the GOP race. He may still be, given his rightist bona fides on the issues that matter most to evangelicals and others on the religious extreme -- issues like abortion, stem-cell research, gay rights, and the imposition of theocracy -- but, for now, social conservatives seem content with the authoritarianism of Rudy They seem to need a father figure with a penchant for violence and retribution, an eye-for-a-biblical-eye, and Rudy seems to fill the bill. So does Fred Thompson, of course, or at least he's playing it that way, which is how he plays it on TV and in the movies, and that may be all that matters, such is the interplay of fact and fiction, politics and entertainment. So perhaps social conservatives -- the notorious base -- will switch to Thompson once he enters, stage (far) right, leaving Giuliani in the dust and Brownback pretty much where he is now, which is well off the radar.

John McCain is done and gone, and his old buddy Thompson, once a maverick of sorts, could eat into his warmongering support. He peaked back in '00, sold his soul, or whatever was left of it, to the establishmentarian devil, embraced Bush, literally, and is following Bush's rapid descent into political oblivion. But that wasn't all. McCain also embraced the now-disgraced neocon fantasy of democracy-by-force, American hegemony for all, and has similarly been discredited. The American people, waking up to reality, have at long last turned on the Iraq War (see elections, 2006), but McCain and the neocons lowlifes want more war, more bloody war, for ever and ever, amen. Poor Bill Kristol, Krazy Kristol, who fell in love with McCain way back when, risking excommunication back in '00, and who would likely have angled for a top spot in a McCain administration, which is now never to be. He and his warmongering ilk will eventually have to find some other horse to back, perhaps some actor masquerading as a neo-Reaganite tough guy.

Which brings us back to Romney, who's running well behind Giuliani, Thompson, and McCain, and just ahead of Gingrich, who remains on the sidelines, stroking his own ego, in all the latest polls. It hardly means a thing that he's pulled ahead in a state so close to his home state of Massachusetts, but the importance of New Hampshire gives him an advantage and just being mentioned in this way could bring money and support. He's too prominent a candidate to be a genuine dark horse, but maybe he's just that. With all the attention on the frontrunner (Giuliani), the former frontrunner (McCain), and the soon-to-be frontrunner (Thompson -- maybe?), not to mention the leader of the Revolutionaries of '94 (Gingrich), Romney could be left in the shadows, struggling for attention. But he has a lot of money, much of it his own, he's a polished candidate, if too polished, and, flipping and flopping aside, he may just be more solid a bet than the liberal Giuliani, the crackpot McCain, and the hyped-up celebrity Thompson. And don't even get me started on the rest of the cast of this atrocious spectacle: the foot-in-mouther Tommy Thompson, the more-extreme-than-you Mike Huckabee, and the renegade-radical Ron Paul. They add "colour," so to speak, but that's about it.

And so Romney's surge in New Hampshire, along with his strong standing in Iowa, must be put in context. They are both BT: Before Thompson. But what if Thompson fails to live up to expectations, as he very well might? What then? Are Republicans really prepared to go with Giuliani and his open closet? One suspects not, ardent, blood-thirsty authoritarianism notwithstanding. The base would settle for Giuliani if he proved to be, as he has thus far proven to be, the most fatherly of these faulty figures, that is, if he promised to torture the most evildoers and spy on the most (un-)Americans, but it would be foolish not to give Romney at least a shot at the nomination.

Even AT, he could surge.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Dennis Miller is an idiot

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Not a dangerous idiot -- he's too irrelevant and pointless to be dangerous -- just a plain old idiot.

I saw him do a show in Boston, oh, 15 years ago or something -- was it that long ago that I was in college? -- and he was pretty funny. That was back during his Perot days. You know, when he was an independent-minded comedian-commentator, the fuck-all SNL anchor. But 9/11 and whatever other forces drive his mania turned him into a right-wing shill, and he's been unfunny ever since (failed MNF experiment included). Gone is the aggressive, unabashed, in-your-face libertarianism. Gone is the independence. It's now ranting and raving of a decidedly partisan nature -- and the ranters and ravers on the right love him for it.

Consider his verbal assault -- yes, an assault, for it was neither delightful comedy nor insightful commentary -- on Harry Reid, the senatorial leader of the despised Democrats. You can watch it here -- "Random Thoughts" on Fox News, as if that should come as any surprise -- and Steve Benen discusses it here. It's such a repugnant ad hominem attack, one that focuses not on ideas, let alone in a serious (or funny) way, but on the man himself: on his appearance, on his voice, his relevance (how does Reid not "matter"?).

Steve "found over 400 conservative blogs praising the attack, characterizing it as the most devastating take-down in political monologue history". Once again: as if that should come as any surprise. The right loves this sort of thing. When all else fails -- and hasn't it all failed? -- there is nothing left for them but to strike out at their opponents in just this sort of way, and worse. Miller gets his unfunny segment on an unfunny show -- a segment, thankfully, and no longer an embarrassing show of his own -- but he is one among many, and many who are far more relevant and influential than he. The right doesn't just love this sort of thing, it can't get enough of it. Hence Rush et al. Hence anything and everything on Fox News.

We have Stewart and Colbert, two brilliant satirists, they have Miller. Yeah, I'd say we win that one.

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Two of a kind

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Hugo and Fidel.

This is supposed to be some sort of "working visit," according to Cuban TV. Maybe Fidel and his brother Raul can show Hugo La Cabaña prison, where their pal Che presided over the mass execution of Hugo's opponents, or maybe they can talk about Che's Soviet-style labour camps and other good ways to brutalize the people in the name of totalitarian revolution.

The Tyrant of Caracas can surely learn a lot from the Tyrant of Havana.

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A pardon without the pain

By Creature

Condi Rice, work wife and holder of the president's ear, weighs in on Scooter Libby and his Quest for Pardon:

QUESTION: You think he should go to jail?

SECRETARY RICE: Look, let me tell you what I think about Scooter Libby. I think he's served the country really well. I think he did it to the best of his ability. I think that he is going through an extremely difficult time with his family and for him. And you know, I'm just desperately sorry that it's happening to him and I -- you know, the legal system has spoken, but I tell you, this is a really good guy who is a good public servant and ought to be treated in accordance with that.

I've talked about Libby's pardon potential before and the feeling I'm getting is that while the president isn't keen on a full pardon--as Condi states: "the legal system has spoken"--he is keen on commuting the sentence, as Bill Kristol predicted on Sunday, or possibly even decreeing that Scooter stay out of jail pending his appeal, as David Frum argued last night on Hardball--he called it the president's power of respite.

One has to wonder what the neocons, and conservatives alike, are being told behind the scenes. I doubt they would be protesting so vociferously if they hadn't been told that the president is considering taking a pardon off the table--told this by the vice president, no doubt. So, with each new compromise floated it's becoming increasing clear that the president is uncomfortable with an all out pardon. I say the president's fabled loyalty only holds firm for those who came from Texas with him--Gonzo as case in point--and that a compromise, whether a commuted sentence or a stay upon appeal, will be the president's way to placate his conservative base while still claiming he respects the rule of law. Either way we can be sure the fallen soldier, I. Scooter Libby, will never see the inside of a jail cell.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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You say benchmark, I say oil robbing

By Creature

From today's New York Times

The top American military commander for the Middle East has warned Iraq’s prime minister in a closed-door conversation that the Iraqi government needs to make tangible political progress by next month to counter the growing tide of opposition to the war in Congress.

In a Sunday afternoon discussion that mixed gentle coaxing with a sober appraisal of politics in Baghdad and Washington, the commander, Adm. William J. Fallon, told Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki that the Iraqi government should aim to complete a law on the division of oil proceeds by next month. [...]

In the meeting, Admiral Fallon focused on Iraq’s oil law, assuming it was closest to completion. "Is it reasonable to expect it to be completed in July?" he asked. "We have to show some progress in July for the upcoming report."

If you fuck with Cheney's Energy Task Force plans we send an admiral to play the heavy. At least we now know where the administration's priorities lie.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Save the BAGeL, save the world

By Creature

My best friend, co-blogger, DJ extraordinaire, and now Internet radio activist, Ted, made the New York Times today (with a picture and everything). How cool is that? The CliffsNotes version can be found at State of the Day and the entire New York Times article is here.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Loyalty gone wild

By Carol Gee

There is a kind of theme I detected in several recent posts at The Reaction. Several have alluded to loyalty or disloyalty in one way or another. Is there such a thing as too much loyalty? Of course there is! (Perhaps I could be accused of same for "pimping" these posts, when I am so new to the group of co-bloggers.) But I do not think so. I and all other avid blog readers love a clever turn of phrase or an elegant skewering, particularly when it is at Republican expense. And these are what I'd like to point out with the following exerpts:

Whom to serve, the people or the boss?
Capt Fogg's "Special Pleadings" was about the sentencing of Scooter Libby from the questionable perspective of William Otis of the Washington Post. To quote, "In addition he thought he [Libby ]was serving his country by putting loyalty to the Bush administration above loyalty to the people and constitution of the United States."

Protecting their own syncophants -
Michael J.W. Stickings gets right to the heart of Bush admnistration loyalty at its worst, "No Confidence in Alberto Gonzales," with this great summary:

"He will survive today's vote only because it is non-binding, because Republicans will close ranks to protect one of their own, even one whose conduct has been as reprehensible as Gonzales's, and because he still enjoys the support of the president -- likely because Bush loves to surround himself with sycophants, of which Gonzales is one of the more repugnant, and because he hates to give in to pressure from his critics, that is, because he is stubborn.

Bush can't always count on loyalty -
Creature in an earlier post, "The grand conservative compromise" opened with this wonderfully wrought sentence, "Loyal Libby apologist Bill Kristol, who just last week eviscerated the president for being a disloyal coward undeserving of respect, now predicts that his "fallen soldier" buddy, I. Scooter Libby, will get the commuted sentence Paris Hilton could only dream of."

Who's the friend, who's the enemy?
Later Creature posted a piece exploring our new "alliance" with Iraqi Sunnis. Who is the enemy of whose enemy in that incredibly convoluted tapestry of ephemeral Iraqi loyalties?

Havoc wrought through loyalty -
J. Kingston Pierce looks at former Secretary of State Colin "Powell - born-again maverick" who, to quote, ". . . effectively destroyed any chance he had of a future career in elective politics by providing George W. Bush with cover he needed to invade Iraq in 2003." Our blogger continues with a quote from Powell indicating that he might not necessarily vote GOP in 2008, and then this great conclusion,

As Joe Sudbay of AMERICAblog points out, such coyness about party choice is “just not done in GOP world. Loyalty comes first.” Apparently, Powell didn’t get the memo. Or maybe he’s just seen what havoc can be wrought through loyalty.

Democrats have little sympathy for Republicans who let blind loyalty get in the way of decent public service. And we,of course, know the pain of what it feels like when someone we trust becomes disloyal. The thing to remember, however, is that United States citizens paid the salaries of these people. The transgressors never had permission to act as if their salaries were personally paid by the boss. Because we pay his, too!

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Look behind the curtain

By Creature

There have been many articles in recent days alerting us to the fact the the US military in Iraq is not only negotiating with Sunni insurgents they are actively arming them to help fight al Qaeda. This new, and desperate, policy is fraught with danger -- arms used against al Qaeda can kill Americans just the same -- and it's not clear that the alliances formed can hold together long enough for the job to be done. However, as he often does, Steve Benen gets to the heart of the issue:

Maybe this strategy will work like a charm. Maybe Sunni militias will be effective in battling al Qaeda and will never turn on those they consider “occupiers.” Maybe we’ll support those who were up until recently killing Americans, and they’ll consider us, for now, the enemy of their enemy. Maybe they’ll eventually lay down arms and agree to some kind of reconciliation in an Iraqi political context. We’ll see.

But in the meantime, I have a question: if Sunnis in Iraq are anxious to take up arms in order to drive al Qaeda from their country, what are we still doing there? If counter-terrorism is the goal, and we can withdraw and let Iraqis do it themselves, why don’t we?

But the problem here is that counter-terrorism is only Bush's stated goal. It's the underlying, and overriding, goal of controlling the oil that keeps us in Iraq and will keep us there for years to come. Even if al Qaeda were to announce tomorrow that they are leaving the fight, the Bush Administration will still find a reason to keep our boots on the ground until the oil is secure. I hate to be so cynical, but not being cynical is simply being naive.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Special pleading

by Capt Fogg

William Otis writing in Sunday's Washington Post suggests that Scooter Libby's sentence of 30 months and $250,000 is excessive and should be commuted. It's only a "process crime" says he, meaning that Libby did nothing illegal until after the government initiated its investigation. That's the nature of Perjury.

Otis is a former federal prosecutor and member of the Attorney General's Advisory Committee on Sentencing Guidelines and special counsel for the first President Bush, so I have at least give the man some credit for not talking off the top of his head, but how this recommendation will fly in a country obsessed with "zero tolerance" and trying children as adults and giving draconian sentences for minor and consensual crimes, I do not know. I do however recall the protracted, expensive and divisive effort to prosecute Bill Clinton for lying about something irrelevant to anything he was being tried for. The acts concerning which Libby committed perjury had nothing to do with sex and Otis points out that they were non-violent and not "drug related." In addition he thought he was serving his country by putting loyalty to the Bush administration above loyalty to the people and constitution of the United States. The crowning argument for commutation is that Sandy Berger, a Democrat, only got a fine for copying classified documents.

I'm not a lawyer or a Republican, so I'm a bit confused as to why 10 years for having too much marijuana is not excessive or 50, 60 or 70 years for pornography possession is not excessive when 30 months for perjury is too much. Holding government officials to a higher standard wasn't considered so terrible during the 1990's, was it? He's not what most people would think of as a criminal, says Mr. Otis, but I disagree. Our jails are filled with non-violent people who have harmed no-one. I submit that Libby supported people who have harmed the world and when Otis says that

"A partial commutation would send the message that we insist on being truthful, but in the name of a justice that still cares about individual circumstances, we will not insist on being vindictive"

I would believe him if it weren't that our mandatory sentencing policies in the US are designed not to take into account individual circumstances and vindictiveness rules to the point of killing people. About this he says nothing.

And lastly, citing an anecdote about Sandy Berger as evidence for political bias in sentencing serves as well to point out that Otis once again says nothing about the legendary capriciousness of criminal courts in handing down sentences that reflect prejudice and thirst for vengeance. His plea is not for universal and consistent justice, but to diminish Libby's offenses.

Otis may be a lawyer and thus used to pleading a case rather than arguing it logically, but if it were up to me, I would Lock up Libby and sentence Otis to being ignored.

(Cross posted in Human Voices)

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No confidence in Alberto Gonzales

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The Senate today is expected to hold a vote of no confidence in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales -- a non-binding vote to the effect that Gonzales "no longer holds the confidence of the Senate and of the American people".

This is, of course, true. Partisanship aside, it is quite likely that he doesn't have confidence of the Senate, and it would seem, too, that he doesn't have the confidence of the American people. His testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee a couple of months ago -- has it really been that long? -- was a joke, but what was more serious was his conduct regarding "purgegate," the firing of U.S. attorneys for partisan purposes. What did he know, and when? Was he involved, and when? To what degree was the White House (i.e., Rove) involved? Etc. There is so much that remains unclear, but there is also so much that points to either incompetence or malfeasance or being kept out of the loop, or some combination of all three, on Gonzales's part. He tried to defend himself on the op-ed page of the Post, but he only proved to be shamelessly self-serving.

Of course, Gonzales also distinguished himself as a defender of torture and illegal domestic surveillance while serving as chief counsel in the White House.

But these more serious concerns aside, it seems to me that he has more than warranted a vote of no confidence -- for what confidence is left? He will survive today's vote only because it is non-binding, because Republicans will close ranks to protect one of their own, even one whose conduct has been as reprehensible as Gonzales's, and because he still enjoys the support of the president -- likely because Bush loves to surround himself with sycophants, of which Gonzales is one of the more repugnant, and because he hates to give in to pressure from his critics, that is, because he is stubborn. But this does not mean that Gonzales will walk away from today's vote in a strong position. In any parliamentary system -- and I realize that America doesn't have one -- he would have been kicked out, or forced to resign, long ago. It is only because the American system allows the president to avoid parliamentary challenges that Gonzales is still in office.

And, on this, Tony Snow is wrong. "It is perfectly obvious that the president has the right to hire and fire people who serve at his pleasure," he said. Well, no. Let us not forget that Bush only nominated him to be attorney general. It was the Senate that -- mistakenly, in my view -- confirmed him. He does not serve at the pleasure of the president, that is, but it is in keeping with this administration's disregard for the Constitution that Bush's spokesman would suggest such nonsense.


One more point: Just to show what an asshole he is, and also how childish his party is, Republican Senator Tom (lesbians are doing it in the school washroom) Coburn of Oklahoma intends to propose, as Bob Geiger is reporting, an amendment to the Gonzales no-confidence resolution that amounts to an expression of no confidence in Congress itself. This is, says Geiger, "the legislative equivalent of something I would expect to see in my son's fourth-grade class".

Or from Republicans on Capitol Hill.

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